Blog Day 10 of 30 — Hometown Hero

Over the past few months, COVID has meant that I need a bit more escapism than usual. And when I need escapism, I turn to tunes with great lyrics. Expansive instrumentals and sexy bass lines are all well and good, but a set of great lyrics really warms my cockles, dear reader. A banging song with lukewarm and lazily written lines is a complete deal-breaker for me. Likewise, a vivid set of lyrics on literally any topic is enough to make me stick around even if the musician actually doesn’t sound all that good. No offence, Lou Reed.

Today I want to show you the work of my favourite songwriter. I’m typing this particular paragraph after having already written and reflected on this whole 1k words, and I think the reason why I’ve been so happy to rant on and on about this guy is because he writes how I’d love to eventually be able to write one day. He uses the simplest of words but yet effortlessly creates whole vibrant layers of emotions and images. He only needs to so much as sing a first name and instantly you have a life-like depiction of a human being borne out in your brain. He weaves through both the serious and the silly, often in the same song, with consummate ease, but he never lingers too long on either and loses you.

I’ll quickly play you one of his songs. Have a listen to the lyrics, because there’s just something special about them for me. I think it’s the best piece of musical storytelling I’ve come across this decade. The song’s called ‘Hometown Hero’ and it’s by my aforementioned songwriting hero, Andy Shauf. I’m not the greatest guitarist or singer in the world and it briefly gets a bit messed up halfway through, but you’ll get the idea hopefully.

It’s basically just a tune about some macho fella who goes to the shop to buy some cigarettes, but the clarity with which the lyrics provide the perspective of a gently mocking observer giving you so much about the protagonist in so few words is pretty mind blowing to me. The song hilariously taps into the whole ‘batman-like anti-hero saves someone’s life but is very aloof about it all and just walks away, because he has his demons too……’ stereotype that you see in movies and crime novels all the time, and there’s no doubting that the lyrics are self-aware enough to be reflective of the fact they’re strongly coated in these stereotypes. You can really picture a bomber jacket-wearing middle aged P.E. teacher type fella who takes himself very seriously behaving exactly in this way. The lyrics aren’t pretentiously conveying some magical life-affirming message, nor are they mawkishly laden with poetic imagery, but they still manage to feel both refined and emotional — that difficult balance also happens to be my favourite style of observational writing. The language is simple, and you don’t need a literature degree to follow the progression of the story. But it all fits so well and creates a layered movie in your mind over the span of just three minutes and three verses, and so in my view it’s undeniably fantastic songwriting. *chef’s kiss*.

The reason why I’ve shown my basic cover of the song rather than just linked a recording of the original version is that — and I really really am trying not to sound like a music snob here but bear with me — Andy Shauf can be a bit of an acquired taste. I’m not at all referring to the genre of music he makes when I say that, but rather the style and mannerisms of the man himself. If you’ve not heard of him before, then imagine the face of Karl Pilkington from An Idiot Abroad but with really long hair and also the strongest Canadian accent known to man. That accent comes across very, very intensely in his singing and, just like Guinness or coffee, it took me a bit of time to get accustomed to. It’s not often you hear a commercially successful artist pronounce the word ‘disappear’ in his hit single as ‘disohhpæyürrrh’. Another part of what I might call his inaccessibility is that he comes across as incredibly reserved and dry — I watched a video of him playing Hometown Hero live, and he introduced it by saying “well, in this song, he uh… stops a robbery at a convenience store, and then he… has a smoke,” with a little wry smile on his face. Both Andy Shauf the man and Andy Shauf the musician enjoy showing rather more than telling, it seems.

But oh my god, once you break through and enter into his world he’s just amazing. He has a ten-song album that came out in 2016 called The Party that I can’t get enough of. I’ll finish by briefly sharing one example of the masterful character building that Shauf achieves here.

The idea is that the whole album is set in a party, and the names mentioned in the songs are recurring characters with clear and fleshed-out personalities. The protagonist of each song isn’t always obvious, and the perspective does seem to change from track to track. Two songs in particular paint one character more vividly than I’ve seen any other equally short pieces of music manage to do. Those songs are Quite Like You (which has a SICK music video) and To You, both of which feature a fictional man — Jeremy — who I feel like I can visualise perfectly. He’s not even the main protagonist of either song. If you wanna listen to the songs that’s great, but don’t worry if not because I’ll try to explain super quickly what I mean regardless.

“Jeremy’s so stoned that I’d be surprised if he saw the tears in Sherry’s eyes / She’s standing in the corner staring at the floor / I wonder what the hell he did this time”

Within the first three lines of Quite Like You, a song written from the perspective of a party attendee in love with Jeremy’s girlfriend, I already feel like I’m at The Party and I know exactly what that prick Jeremy is like. Some of you, in fact, may have met a Jeremy at a house party. Too much weed, stuffing the Dorito’s into himself, has brought his girlfriend but seems to just be wandering about talking to literally everyone else and probably getting on their nerves. Arsehole.

“Jeremy walks over and to my surprise, Sherry puts her arm around his side”

…and, without spoiling the events of the middle of the song, here’s the last line. To me it calls the entire story into question and it’s just amazing. Is Jeremy really a complete manipulative stoner arsehole who doesn’t deserve his poor girlfriend, or is it actually that the protagonist of the song is being a stereotypical Nice Guy and has imagined the girl as the ‘damsel in distress’ who he has to save? Maybe, in the latter case, Jeremy’s actually not that bad? Quite Like You is a good song. It’s only three minutes long and leaves me thinking about how I’ve behaved both towards people I’ve been going out with and towards people who I’ve really really wanted to go out with. Those times when I may have been like the protagonist, and other times where I may have been like Jeremy in my own relationships. Top tier songwriting.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to another song called To You, also on the album and also about Jeremy. This time, someone else (or perhaps the same protagonist?) seems to fleetingly attempt to confess their love for him, but is disappointed at his response. Maybe you’ll visualise him differently again afterwards. Happy Wednesday.

Jeremy can we talk a minute
I’ve got some things
That I need to get
Off of my chest
I know that we’ve had a few
And it’s far too late
But if I wait
I might never tell you
Can we find somewhere quiet
Let’s go outside
I’ve got some smokes
If you’ve got a light
It’s just that sometimes when I’m by your side
It feels so right
It feels like nothing could go wrong
Does it ever
Feel like that to you
Does it ever
Feel like that to you
Oh I don’t know what I mean
That sounded wrong
Man I’m just tired
I’m not being weird
I just mean that you’re a good friend
It’s hard to explain
Just forget I
Said anything
Oh get over yourself
I’m not in love with you
It just came out all wrong
Yea tell the guys
And laugh it up
Why am I even surprised
That it never
Feels like that to you
That it never
Feels like that to you
I guess it never
Feels like that to you
I guess it never
Feels like that to you

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Student currently writing 30 days of blogs for The Water Project. Here’s the link to donate: https://thewaterproject.org/community/profile/privilegedtohelp

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